Sometimes the best way to brighten your day is to start with a hearty square meal. And sometimes, what's "good" for you can't be determined from reading a nutrition label or by counting calories. These charming, no-frills Detroit-area diners will pump you full of warmth, variety, and, best of all, cholesterol. Here are some of our favorites.
Luci & Ethel's Diner
400 Bagley St., Detroit; 313-962-2300
Situated at the corner of the historic Leland Hotel is this quintessential retro diner experience. The cooks take their time, for better or worse, to serve the 20 or so people that could possibly fit in the place. Open 24 hours on Fridays and Saturdays, it doesn't get much greasier than drunkenly stumbling in from a night at City Club and wolfing down an omelette, burger, or coney dog ordered from a blurry chalkboard menu. Enjoy a brief break from the hustle and bustle of downtown Detroit as you soak up the the retro thriftstore decor and 1950s charm.
Zeff's Eastern Market
2469 Russell St., Detroit; 313-259-4705
Checking all the boxes required to be considered among the best greasy spoon diners is Zeff's in Eastern Market. Hearty, greasy, classic American food? Of course. Cheap prices? You bet. Generous portions? Always. Cozy, intimate, no bullshit interior? Yes — with bar stools at the counter for good measure. Cool location? It doesn't get much cooler than colorful shopping district of Eastern Market. Zeff's might be best known for coneys, but its breakfast is just as reputable. Food this good can't possibly be bad for you, right?
1326 E. Jefferson Ave., Detroit; 313-259-0922
It might seem odd to name a grease pit diner as if it was an exclusive night club. But once you try Clique's breakfast croissants, chorizo skillets, or salmon patties for the first time, you'll wish you were a part of this clique sooner. There is so much to choose from and so many calories coming your way that you might be tempted to get a room at the attached motel to sleep it all off when you're done.
5458 W. Vernor Hwy., Detroit; 313-554-3076
The late Anthony Bourdain pumped up the popularity of this Southwest Detroit mainstay after they greased his palms with one of their infamous coney dogs for his show Parts Unknown. Having been open for almost a century now, Duly's Place drips history. They're open 24 hours, so you can have coneys for breakfast, or have breakfast for a midnight snack. The entire menu fits onto a couple letter boards that hang over this intimate, narrow hallway of a restaurant. Your food travels an arm's length from the grill to the counter, as the cooks have to do little more than pivot to serve you a hot and greasy piece of historical heaven.
330 Monroe St., Detroit; 313-965-0088; hamshopcafe.letseat.at
The Ham Shop is Greektown's goddess of gluttony. You could feed two hungry Tigers fans for 10 to 15 bucks — that's the price of an appetizer at some of the surrounding establishments. Before you hit the casino, you can stuff yourself with chicken and waffles, catfish and grits, or steak and eggs. All the meats and treats served here make the Ham Shop the greasiest spoon in Greasetown — er, we mean Greektown.
Cadillac Square Diner
101 Cadillac Sq., Detroit; 313-974-6923; cadillacsquarediner.com
Around the bend from Campus Martius, you can start your day with fluffy french toast or fruity crepes and pancakes. While the rest of the downtown area tries to get by on stylish and trendy, this is one of the few quick, cheap, and safe bets in the city, where you can get anything you could want — from big, bountiful breakfast specials to overflowing coneys and burgers.
5470 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-832-4817
Located in the middle of Wayne State University's campus for more than 50 years is what students refer to as "the restaurant with the marshmallow roof." And while the prices are fit for a student's budget, the Campus Diner has hearty meals for anyone. Expect monster portions, hardworking staff, and some of the cleanest plate presentations you'll see from a greasy spoon diner. Be forewarned: If you come here looking to fuel up for a study session, you might end up in an unintended food coma instead.
1861 E. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-629-4500; earlsdinerferndale.com
Earl's — formerly known as the local favorite Double EE's, but forced to close due to a rent dispute — is back with a new name but all the old favorites intact, like the meat loaf and the can't-beat-it country omelette and hash browns. It's still run by owner Gino Zoto, and he even got some of his old employees back to staff it because it's that type of community staple. Locals say it's the best food in flavor-rich Ferndale and they're glad to have their diner back on Nine Mile.
1400 N. Campbell Rd., Royal Oak; 248-543-4397
The rave reviews at Oak Diner lean toward favoring the unending breakfast options like peanut butter french toast and Oreo pancakes. And with sandwich names like "Real Mess," "Big Jim," "Two Hand Grab," "Smash 'dis," and "Chubby," it's hard not to get curious. And hungry. What used to be known as the Royal Diner changed the name a bit under new management, while sprucing up the menu even more.
Whistle Stop Diner
24060 Woodward Ave., Pleasant Ridge; 248-632-1311; whistlestopdiners.com
It's probably best that the Whistle Stop Diner is almost purposely hidden on a small corner in the city of Pleasant Ridge, which itself is hidden between Ferndale and Royal Oak. If this cafe wasn't so clandestine, it would be impossible to snag one of the 20 or so seats that surround the curved counter. Even more surprising is that they have room to house all the local ingredients that make up their sizable menu. Try any variety of their eggs benedict, breakfast burgers, or potato latkes, with a Great Lakes coffee to wet your whistle.
3640 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-894-6620; hygradedeli.com
Boasting Detroit's best corned beef, Hygrade Deli has been cramming brunch and bigger-than-your-head sandwiches into the mouths of Detroiters since 1955. Their quaint and colorful retro diner on Michigan Avenue near West Grand Boulevard could double as a 1950s movie set. (It was actually featured in Batman v. Superman.) Time seems to have stood still here, and after your meal it's likely you won't be able to move either.
300 S. Ashley St., Ann Arbor; 734-995-5502
No one does retro diner ambience better than these "hippie hash" dealers who have been keeping spirits high with mean, green, breakfast cuisine since 1949. Like Fleetwood Mac said, you can go your own way — but that way likely leads to a stool at the counter of Fleetwood Diner.
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